Photo cred – @jennboother
For most people, going to pick up a bottle of wine at the SAQ can be a terrifying thing. You can usually get off the hook at parties by telling people "sure, I like red" or, "I know what I like". Drinking wine is the easy part. Standing in front of the endless rows of dark bottles and fancy-looking labels can intimidate the best of us. Montreal is a great city for wine and there’s a Hack for making the SAQ work for you. Here's the quick and dirty on how to read wine labels and what those scribbles actually mean.
How to read a wine label
Wine labels don’t have to be confusing. While there’s a lot to be found on the label, start by focusing on these three descriptions: Grape / Region, Producer, Alcohol Percentage. These descriptors are trying to tell you what your wine will taste like. Read the label to get the info you want. While the other details are important, you can learn them later to build on the knowledge you already have
The grape/region label classify wines in one of two ways: by grape or by region. A wine region can be big like Burgundy in France, or small like a single vineyard. Regions are for avid wine drinkers and require advanced lessons, which we can skip for now. Bottles that display a grape like "Merlot" or "Chardonnay" are made from at least 75% of that variety of grape. Knowing which grape was used helps you to know what flavors you will find, and that makes choosing wine much easier. Check out my cheat sheet below for understanding what the most popular grapes taste like.
The producer will have a distinct method to produce their wine. If you really liked a Merlot from a producer, trying another grape variety from them is always a good idea
The alcohol percentage will tell you how bold the wine will be. Lower on the scale will be wines at 10-12%, whiles wines at 14-16% will taste much stronger and feel hot in the mouth.
Photo cred - Marie Kondo
What does it taste like?
It’s easy to make fun of the wine world. Some people take themselves way too seriously and say outlandish things like: I detect light notes of barnyard (actual thing) and tarry earthiness (also an actual thing). But, if you dial it back a bit, we can all agree that wine does taste like other things.
Put simply: Wine is made from grapes, and each grape has distinct flavors, and a distinct personality. By learning the flavors and aromas of each grape, you'll be able to look at the label and know what the general flavor of the wine will be. That said, remember that the personality of a grape can be like the personality of a friend: varying on where they are from. Just don’t be a jerk when you talk about it.
Photo cred - Kayla Adams
Pick a personality
Here, in five words or less, are descriptions of the most common grapes. Let this be your cheat sheet the next time you are trying to pick a wine.
Note: When barreled in oak, wines can take on extra flavors of vanilla, spice, coffee, mocha, smoke, or caramel.
Cabrarnet Sauvignon: tannic, full, blackcurrent, bell pepper, chocolate
Pinot Noir: cherry, earthy, silky, strawberry jam
Shiraz/Syrah: blackberry, blueberry, plum, mineral, spicy
Merlot: smooth, plum, perfume, rasberry
Nebbiolo: roses, inky, plum, cherry, smoke
Tempranillo: juicy, leather, tobacco, expensive
Zinfandel: jammy, raspberry, black cherry, usually “hot” (high in alcohol)
Sangiovese: acidic, cherry, earthy, wood, spicy
Chardonnay: melon, buttery, green apple, pineapple
Riesling: apple, peachy, lime, apricot
Sauvignon Blanc: grassy, crisp, acidic, mineral
Semillon: dry, honey, grapey, fig,
Chenin Blanc: lemon, dried honey, ripe pear
Viognier: floral, peach, apricot, lemon zest,
Gewurztraminer: rich, spicy, tropical fruits, grapefruit
Pinot Gris/ Grigio: tart, citrus, fresh pear, melon,
Use these tips to help you when buying at the SAQ or the next time you’re looking over the menu at a restaurant.